New: Book Report: Don't Make Me Think

The SF Minigame was awesome. But I can't say much about that now, since other folks will still get a chance to play in that game. So... a book review about Don't Make me Think

This is a book about web usability. Suppose you're creating a web site. You worked really hard to get this thing working. Ideally, people needn't work hard to use your web site, to find their way around. But all too often, that's how it turns out.

This book is about web usability. It's about setting up web sites so that people can figure out how to use them.

I don't design web sites. I just, you know, write stuff. I'm a technical writer. But there is some overlap. You can write a brilliant essay about, uhm, designing a database schema--but no-one will ever find that essay if you don't help them. And if you decide to divvy up that long essay, divvy it up into a few smaller web pages, that can help people to read it unless you screw up and people can't figure out how they're supposed to navigate between those pages.

I didn't learn much from this book, but it was still worth reading--it's short! And I did learn some things. One of these things was pretty important:

When someone's scanning a page, hoping for a link to something interesting, they of course won't read the whole page. They're scanning. If they notice something halfway plausible, they click it. If you have a few subtly-different choices, make sure they're right next to each other. If you have a link to your Pasta FAQ and links to your Spaghetti FAQ, most folks will just click on whichever of those they find first.

I guess I kinda knew that. I knew that my Pasta FAQ should have a notice close to the top saying If you have a Spaghetti Question, you want the Spaghetti FAQ and a similar "mercy link" at the top of the Spaghetti FAQ. But I wasn't thinking so much about how to structure a page that had links to both FAQs. So now I have more to think about.

And if I hadn't already had all too many conversations about usability, I probably would have learned even more from this book.

Unfortunately, it's not so clear how to apply his Usability-Lab on the cheap advice for technical writing. I can see asking an engineer, "Here's a pile of documentation. Does this tell you enough to write an international currency computer? OK if I sit over here and watch you struggle?"... but I don't think it would go over so well.

Another problem with reading a book about web usability is that I keep switching over to bold-face text for a sentence or phrase for no apparent reason. Sorry. I'll try to stop that.

Labels: ,

Posted 2008-04-20